Category Archives: Children’s books

August Reflections and September Plans

Hello, my friends. It’s time for some reflecting on life and reading in the month of August. It was another rather intense month, but flew by amazingly quickly. I’m proud to say that I actually finished reading two books during that month! Focusing on my reading has been a challenge with everything going on in our lives right now, but I decided to return to a much loved book, Persuasion, by Jane Austen, and just enjoy whatever reading time I could find. It was such a pleasure! The book and the simple act of reading! And then I ended up the month reading a book by another favorite author, Edith Nesbitt. The Story of the Treasure Seekers was a reminder of how childhood used to be a time of intense innocence and imagination.

The end of August also brings my favorite Fall reading challenge. Although I can hardly take on a bigger challenge than life itself right now, I’m going to join the Readers Imbibing Peril XVII challenge and read as much as time allows. I have a dear friend (a high school friend!) that loves the Fall and this kind of Fall reading, but he’s still a university professor and therefore doesn’t have the time to participate. But we both love Ray Bradbury, and he is inspiring me to read more of Bradbury’s stories and novels, so I’ve decided to make that my focus of my RIP reading this year!

My Readers Imbibing Peril XVII reading list!

On the home front, August brought another major change in our journey through cancer. Byron’s chemotherapy stopped working, just that quickly after 6 successful infusions. It was not unexpected but it was disappointing nonetheless. So he is now on hospice, and August was spent getting settled into that new reality, and focusing on finding the right combination of medications that would manage his pain more efficiently so that he can have some comfortable quality of life during this stage. We are so appreciative of our new hospice team! They work incredibly hard to manage his comfort care, and we feel very supported and cared for.

On our “Walk ‘n Roll.”

When I use the word “hospice,” I find that people assume that death is imminent. That’s what I always thought, too. But now we know that although hospice is “end of life care,” there’s a period of time before the final decline that can be much longer than anticipated. That’s where we are right now, this week — in the calm of pain management and improved quality of life. Byron is still able to care for himself and work on his home projects and his reading. Because he is quite disabled due to the cancer in his hip and pelvis, he  requested a wheel chair from our hospice team, and so we are able to get out for early morning walks as often as we can now. Being outside and surrounded by beauty feeds our souls! Our daughter calls these cherished walks, our “Walk ‘n Roll” time.

I hope that you had a good August, my friends, and will have a book-filled and enjoyable September.

The Golden Goblet

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, won the Newbery Honor Award in 1962. It would be a fun read for 6th graders who are studying ancient Egypt.  Although I had the book in my 6th grade class library for many years, and my students enjoyed checking it out and reading it, I hadn’t read it until now. I’d call it an historical mystery and the story of a strong and talented young man overcoming adversity. I enjoyed it!

From the publisher:

Ranofer wants only one thing in the world: to be a master goldsmith like his beloved father was. But how can he when he is all but imprisoned by his evil half brother, Gebu? Ranofer knows the only way he can escape Gebu’s abuse is by changing his destiny. But can a poor boy with no skills survive on the cutthroat streets of ancient Thebes? Then Ranofer finds a priceless golden goblet in Gebu’s room and he knows his luck and his destiny are about to change.

This is the third book I’ve read by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and I liked all three of them. Click on the following titles to read my reviews of the other two books:  The Moorchild and Greensleeves.

 

This book was one of my choices for The Classics Club, round 2.

The Elephant’s New Shoe

The Elephant’s New Shoe, by Laurel Neme, is a non-fiction picture book about a young elephant in the forests of Cambodia who lost its foot in a snare trap. When he as found, he was thin and suffering tremendous pain. His rescuers nursed his wound and took care of him, but were afraid that he would die soon. However, this little elephant had both courage and a great will to live, and when his rescuers saw his fighting spirit, they worked to find a way to help him become a whole elephant again. They began to design a “shoe” that would enable him to walk again. This account of Chhouk’s healing and recovery, and the attempts to make a comfortable shoe for an elephant, is a warm and heartfelt story.

In the forward to the book, Nick Marx, the man who rescued this little elephant, wrote:

We must not forget that animals have feelings, too. Baby elephants are like children and need love if they are to grow up happy and strong. Please remember this and try to conserve wild animals. They may look a little different, but they are people, too! We should leave them in the forest where they belong, not capture them in snares, put them in cages, or keep them as pets.

This book jumped out at me as I was browsing through the library this week. When my focus and emotional energies are drained, I find solace in reading children’s books, and this little book touched my heart.

Two Stories About Refugees

As I said in my previous post, I am heartbroken for and inspired by the people of Ukraine. There is so much violence and death right now, and so many people are having to flee for safer places. But their fighting spirit and resilience are incredible.

Recently, I read two books for young people about having to flee their homes and homelands because of war. Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home, written and illustrated by Youme Landowne, is a picture book and the true story of a five-year-old girl whose family had to flee the civil war in Laos. They left their home under cover of night, and the little girl carried only her memories with her. She has shared those memories over the years with many people across the world. It’s a lovely little book, and one that can help with discussions with young children about the difficulties of being a refugee. Certainly a timely discussion to have right now.

The other book I read on the struggle of refugees was Katherine Applegate’s young adult book called Home of the Brave. It is the story of a refugee boy fleeing the brutal war in the Sudan. His father and brother have been killed and his mother is missing. His aunt and cousin, earlier refugees from the Sudan to the United States, welcome him to their home in Minnesota. He arrives in the middle of winter, and his culture shock is mind boggling. He has never seen snow nor felt the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. He is heartbroken over the loss of his family and especially traumatized by not knowing whether or not his mother is alive. He starts school right way and struggles with the language, the loneliness, the discrimination, and the cold. But he is a boy with tremendous resilience, and his story is inspiring.

There are many other excellent books on the humanitarian crises brought on by war, and I’m glad I found these two to read right now.

Two Books on Courage

For the last few years I have chosen one word to be my guiding theme for the year. My word for 2022 is Courage. (You can read about my reasons for choosing this particular word by clicking here.) I am planning to read many different books on courage this year and started this project by reading the following two beautiful stories.

I was delighted when my friend, Marlo, sent me a wonderful little picture book called Courage, by Bernard Waber. It was the perfect gift — heartwarming and deeply appreciated support for me.

It’s a poignant little picture book for the very young and the much older, reminding us that courage comes in all sizes and shapes!

From the publisher:

What is courage? Certainly it takes courage for a firefighter to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, but there are many other kinds of courage too. Everyday kinds that normal, ordinary people exhibit all the time, like “being the first to make up after an argument,” or “going to bed without a nightlight.” Bernard Waber explores the many varied kinds of courage and celebrates the moments, big and small, that bring out the hero in each of us.

 

In January, I also read the Newbery Award winning book of 1941, Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry. It is a classic tale of a young boy overcoming his fear of the sea.

From the publisher:

Maftu was afraid of the sea. It had taken his mother when he was a baby, and it seemed to him that the sea gods sought vengeance at having been cheated of Mafatu. So, though he was the son of the Great Chief of Hikueru, a race of Polynesians who worshipped courage, and he was named Stout Heart, he feared and avoided the sea, till everyone branded him a coward. When he could no longer bear their taunts and jibes, he determined to conquer that fear or be conquered– so he went off in his canoe, alone except for his little dog and pet albatross.

I have read it and reread many times over the years, and my copy of this book from my teaching years showed that it was read often by my sixth graders. It is a moving story and one that teaches us to face what we are most afraid of.

New Books


A number of new books arrived this weekend for my birthday. It’s so fun to see what my family chooses for me when they buy me books. My daughter sent me a Kindle book I’ve been interested in reading for a long time. My brother and sister-in-law sent the two hilarious squirrel books along with a very interesting-looking book written by their friend. And not in the photo is the first book in a Japanese Manga series from Byron, because he knows I’ve been enjoying those. My reading heart is warmed by all this book love!

 

Malala’s Magic Pencil

There are so many wonderful books for children that fit into my “Wanderlust” project of reading books that are from or take place in each country around the world. When I made an early January trip to the library, I found a very nice story for this project.

Pakistan:
Malala’s Magic Pencil is the first picture book written by activist and Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai. It is autobiographical and a sweet story about how she became an activist, using her pen and her voice to advocate for women’s education and a better more peaceful world. When Malala was little, she watched a tv show about a young boy who had a magic pencil. He helped people by drawing—whatever he drew, came true. So if someone was hungry, he would draw a bowl of curry and feed them. Malala thought it would be wonderful to have a magic pencil, and she thought about ways she could help others if she had one. That thinking lead her to realize that, if she was to really be able to help others, she would need a good education.
This is a wonderful introduction to Malala and her influence worldwide. I would have used this book in my classroom to start discussions about many important issues in today’s world, and to introduce my students to one of my heroes!

A Little Princess

Illustration by Jesse Willcox Smith…

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favorite books read this year. It had been so many years since I last read it that I’d almost forgotten what a treasure it is. I think I loved the story even more this time around.

From the publisher:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl’s fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children’s literature.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”

“She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you think of, and what you do.”

“Perhaps kind thoughts reach people somehow, even through windows and doors and walls. Perhaps you feel a little warm and comforted, and don’t know why, when I am standing here in the cold and hoping you will get well and happy again.”

“If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and, though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that — warm things, kind things, sweet things — help and comfort and laughter — and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

This is a story of resilience in adversity, and of choosing to be positive and hopeful even under the worst conditions. It is about kindness and compassion and love. What better story to read during the holiday season?

 

The Long Winter

The winter of 1880/1881 was one of the worst winters on record in South Dakota. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the story of her family’s experience in surviving that dreadful winter. One of the books in her Little House on the Prairie series, this book chronicles the seven months of blizzard after blizzard, the deep cold, and the terrible hunger that the citizens of DeSmet, and Laura’s family, suffered.  Even the supply train became stuck in the snow and could not bring in the desperately needed supplies.

The story of how this family and the townspeople survived is riveting and amazing. Laura’s parents were amazing with their survival skills, as the homesteaders of those days had to be. But I was inspired by their inner strength and how they encouraged that strength in their daughters. Laura was a tremendous help to them throughout that winter struggle.

However, that long long winter took a tremendous emotional toll on the family along with the physical struggle to survive. It became increasingly difficult to keep up their spirits, as the struggle to stay warm went on and endlessly on.

I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to our year+ of quarantine and isolation due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So many people have really suffered from the isolation and feeling of endless restrictions on “normal” life. Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the resilience we find deep inside at times of intense hardship and difficulty.

For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white. A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.

“Now, girls!” Ma said. “A storm outdoors is no reason for gloom in the house.” “What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.” “I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”

After Ma had seen them all tucked in bed and had gone downstairs, they heard and felt the blizzard strike the house. Huddled close together and shivering under the covers they listened to it. Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm. There were houses in town, but not even a light from one of them could reach another. And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted and winds howled and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

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I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in South Dakota.

The Land of the Blue Flower

More wise words from Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden.  A lovely thought from her short book called The Land of the Blue Flower:

“The earth is full of magic…Most men know nothing of it and so comes misery. The first law of the earth’s magic is this one. If you fill your mind with a beautiful thought there will be no room in it for an ugly one.”

My Robin

I am quite captivated by the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett since reading Unearthing The Secret Garden, by Marta McDowell. Included in that book is a short memoir — the story of the little English robin that inspired the robin in The Secret Garden. My Robin is a lovely book to read on a gray and rainy afternoon.

I did not own the robin—he owned me—or perhaps we owned each other. He was an English robin and he was a PERSON—not a mere bird. An English robin differs greatly from the American one. He is much smaller and quite differently shaped. His body is daintily round and plump, his legs are delicately slender. He is a graceful little patrician with an astonishing allurement of bearing. His eye is large and dark and dewy; he wears a tight little red satin waistcoat on his full round breast and every tilt of his head, every flirt of his wing is instinct with dramatic significance. He is fascinatingly conceited—he burns with curiosity—he is determined to engage in social relations at almost any cost and his raging jealousy of attention paid to less worthy objects than himself drives him at times to efforts to charm and distract which are irresistible. An intimacy with a robin—an English robin—is a liberal education.

This story is also available in book form, as an e-book, and as a short audiobook through Audible. It’s a sweet little read, especially for those of us who loved The Secret Gatden.

Illustration by Inga Moore, from The Secret Garden